Matthias Sindelar!

 

Who was he?

Apart from those, who study about football, how many of the current, so-called, die-hard football fans know about the Mozart of football? How many of you know about one of the greatest of football, who won the hearts of millions to earn immortality within a few days of his life?

The expected answer would be NO!

Hardly anyone of the current fans knows about the greats of the past, whose contributions have laid the foundation for the heroes of the present. Whatever gone yesterday is gone and is trapped in the pages of history, which anyone wishes to open and learn.

The present fans wish to deny history triggered by the hype of modern-day, but it’s always hard to deny either a King or Mozart of the past.

As the saying goes, “Old is Gold”!

The birth of a genius in Kozlov, Moravia

War erupted as the result of a dispute between Austria and Prussia in 1866 over the administration of Schleswig-Holstein. It lasted for more than a year and when it ended, a union was established on March 30, 1867. It consisted of two monarchies – Austria and Hungary – and one autonomous region: the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia under the Hungarian crown, which negotiated the Croatian–Hungarian Settlement in 1868.

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The Austro-Hungarian Empire often used liberal economic policies. Industrialization took place. Newly prosperous members of the bourgeoisie erected large homes and began to take prominent roles in urban life that rivaled the aristocrats. Foreign investments were encouraged, and which paved the way for the development of infrastructures, such as railroads, in aid of industrialization, transportation and communications, and development. The Austro-Hungarian Empire flourished, but alongside the Aristrocrate society and urban upper and middle class, the lower middle class had their own stories.

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Jan Sindelar and his wife Marie lived in Kozlov, Moravia. Moravia is a historic place of the current Czech Republic, but before the first World War, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By profession, Jan was a blacksmith. Economic growth did not visit Jan and Marie’s life. Their life was moving on facing the realities of life. On February 10, 1903, Marie gave birth to a boy. They named him Matthias. The boy had sharpness written all over his face. His eyes wanted to learn more, his eyes wished to seek immortality.

The stylish enigma

Jan and Marie moved to the Favoriten region of Vienna – a place where the majority of the people were Czech-speaking. They came here for a better living and future of their 4 children.

The first World War broke through in 1918. Jan joined the war to fight for his country but did not return thereafter. The war ended leaving the Sindelar family shaken and tottered. Marie had to work harder to feed her children. Those were the days of great hardships throughout Europe. The proper upbringing of many children took a step back.

Matthias Sindelar playing with the ball on his head. Image Courtesy: Football Pink
Matthias Sindelar playing with the ball on his head. Image Courtesy: Football Pink

Football was the game of Europe back then as well. The children in the streets would pass their time kicking the ball around. The eyes of Matthias flashed whenever he watched the boys of neighbourhood playing football – that round object would attract his legs, mind, and eyes. The legend of Matthias Sindelar started in the streets of Vienna. Each day his acts with the ball on his feet would charm everyone around and while at the age of 15, his talent was spotted by Hertha Vienna. Immediately, they recruited him into their youth scheme.

Matthias would nurture his talent at Hertha until 1924 when he joined FK Austria Vienna – better known as Wiener Amateur-SV at that time but would change their name two years later.

At FK Austria Vienna, Matthias outshone others.  He helped the team win the Austrian Cup in 1925, 1926, 1933, 1935, and 1936, a league title in 1926, and the Mitropa Cup in 1933 and 1936. Until 1939, Sindelar smashed almost 600 goals in 703 appearances for the club, which is absolutely jaw-dropping.

As a footballer, Sindelar was ahead of his time.

He was a cocktail of grace, skill, and stamina. He made the turf of  Franz Horr-Stadion all his own. A robust and physical approach never dominated his style of play, rather, wit and imagination were more evident. He was a smart thinker and blessed with imagination, which outweighed the opponents more often.

Matthias Sindelar in action. Image Courtesy: FourFourTwo
Matthias Sindelar in action. Image Courtesy: FourFourTwo

Theatre critic Alfred Polgar described, “In a way, he had brains in his legs. And many remarkable and unexpected things occurred to them while they were running. Sindelar’s shot hit the back of the net like the perfect punchline, the ending that made it possible to understand and appreciate the perfect composition of the story, the crowning of which it represented.”

Matthias Sindelar in a commercial for Yogurt. Image Courtesy: CORBIS
Matthias Sindelar in a commercial for Yogurt. Image Courtesy: CORBIS

Johann Baptist Strauss was a renowned musician back in the 19th century. He composed over 500 waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, and other types of dance music, as well as several operettas and a ballet. In his lifetime, he was known as “The Waltz King”, and was largely responsible for the popularity of the waltz in Vienna during the 19th century.

Vienna was madly in love with his music. His music had the touch of elegance, which inspired many not only in the music industry but off it as well.

Whoever witnessed Matthias display on the football pitch, could feel that he was dancing with the music of Strauss – so smooth and silky, which soothed the mind and heart. Time and again, Matthias honoured the works of Strauss with his footballing genius.

The heartbeat of the Wunderteam

In 1926, Matthias met Hugo Meisl, the famous football manager of Austria. He was a legendary figure who set standards for the Austrian National Football team back then. Meisl needed a genius in the center-forward position and after watching Matthias, he realized, Matthias would be the man to take Austria to the next level.

Hugo Meisl. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Common
Hugo Meisl. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Common

As Footy Analyst described, “Under his guidance, the Austrian national team were adherents to what had become known as the ‘Scottish School of Football’ based on rapid exchange of possession within the team to draw opposition players out of position and exploit the spaces created. It was a format of play that, many have argued, laid the foundations for the Totaal Voetbal of the great Dutch teams that would scorch the fields of European football, both in club competitions and internationally, with the bright orange flame of their brilliance. It was also ideally suited to the intelligence and ability of Sindelar, and he became a key element in, and driving force of, their unheralded success”.

The Wunderteam. Image Courtesy: France Culture
The Wunderteam. Image Courtesy: France Culture

The team of Meisl was known as the Wunderteam. Matthias became the heartbeat of the team, who went unbeaten for 14 games from Aril 1931 to December 1932.

Journalist Willy Meisl described him. “He was truly symbolical of Austrian soccer at its peak period: no brawn but any amount of brain. Technique bordering on virtuosity, precision work, and an inexhaustible repertoire of tricks and ideas. He had a boyish delight in soccer exploits, above all in unexpected twists and moves which were quickly understood and shared by his partners brought up on the same wavelength, but were baffling to the opposition only a fraction of a second slower.”

The World Cup adventure

The second FIFA World Cup took place in Italy. By then, the aura of Meisl’s boys started to fade, but the killer instincts were still evident with players like Matthias Sindelar, Josef Bican, Anton Schall, Josef Smistik and Walter Nausch around. Austria were considered to be one of the teams to challenge the might of Vittorio Pozzo’s Italy.

Matthias Sindelar lifts the ball over the Belgian goalkeeper to make it 3-0 during Austria’s 4-1 win over Belgium during their June 1933 friendly match in Vienna.
Matthias Sindelar lifts the ball over the Belgian goalkeeper to make it 3-0 during Austria’s 4-1 win over Belgium during their June 1933 friendly match in Vienna. Image Courtesy: The Guardian

Ahead of the competition, they had beaten Germany 5-0 and then 6-0, adding another six-goal haul against Switzerland and a highly impressive 8-2 win over Hungary. In 1932, they took the Central European International Cup, defeating Italy 4-2.

Like the Magnificent Magyars of 1954, Holland of 1974, and Brazil of 1982, the Wunderteam of 1934 was regarded as the People’s Champions Of World Cup 1934.

In the first round, Austria faced France, who took the lead through Jean Nicolas. Matthias equalized and took the game to extra-time. He dictated the game and helped Austria prevail in a 3-2 nail-bitter. In the quarterfinals, they met Hungary, where Matthias would shine again in a 2-1 win.

In the semifinal against the host Italy, Pozzo decided to stop Matthias. He knew very well that if Matthias was stopped, half of the job would be done. Austria played rhythmic football whereas the Italians were a crushing blow of the claymore – wielding iron with fire and fury.

Ten minutes into their 1934 World Cup semi-final against Austria at the San Siro in Milan, Enrico Guaita bundles the ball home to score the only goal of the game. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images
Ten minutes into their 1934 World Cup semi-final against Austria at the San Siro in Milan, Enrico Guaita bundles the ball home to score the only goal of the game. Image Courtesy: Keystone/Getty Images

Rain poured at San Siro and made the pitch tough to play football – uneven soaked with sand. The free-flowing passing game of Meisl’s boys failed to flourish, while Pozzo deactivated Matthias by marking him with the Argentine-born tough-nut Luis Monti – he could hardly breathe.

The Wunderteam would not get past the sturdiness of Azzurri.

It took a controversial goal to decide the winner as Footy Analyst described, “Peter Platzer, playing in goal for the injured first-choice Rudi Hiden, fell onto a low cross gathering the ball safely, only to be piled into by Meazza. As the ball inevitably rolled free, Enrique Guaita, another Oriundo, poked it home. The Swedish referee, Ivan Eklind saw nothing wrong and awarded the goal. The official was much criticized afterward for favoring the home team, but the organizers rewarded him with the honour of refereeing the Final”.

In 1936, Austria won the Gold Medals in the Olympics.

After the death of Meisl in 1937, Austria would not be the same as before.

Meanwhile, the glory days of Matthias Sindelar was setting in the west.

The eventful match against Germany at Vienna

On April 3, 1938, Austria played against Germany at Prater Stadium in Vienna, which would be their last match as an independent nation.

Adolf Hitler had annexed Austria and the Nazis ordered the dissolution of the Austrian team into a common team despite their qualification in the FIFA World Cup 1938.

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The match was dubbed as a game for celebrating the Anschluss and Austria’s “coming home to the Reich”.

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The Austrians played on the wish of Sindelar, who always expressed his wish of not playing for Germany, in red-white-red kits (the national flag’s colours) instead of their traditional white and black.

As Jonathan Wilson wrote, “It is hard to be sure exactly what happened against Germany. Fact has become obscured by subsequent myths, but what is clear is that Sindelar missed a series of chances in the first half. Given how frequently he rolled the ball a fraction wide of the posts, contemporary reports suggested he might have been mocking the Germans – and supposed orders not to score – by missing on purpose. That, frankly, sounds implausible, but if it is a myth, it was widespread and was being propagated by the following day’s newspapers.

Eventually, midway through the second half, Sindelar tucked in a rebound, and, when his friend Schasti Sesta later looped in a second from a free-kick, he celebrated by dancing in front of a directors’ box packed with high-ranking Nazis”.

That celebration might have raffled a few feathers.

The tragic death 

January 23, 1939. Gustav Harmann, a friend of Sindelar, continued to knock on the door of his flat on Annagasse. After repeated knockings, there was no response. Hartmann entered the falt after breaking the door and he discovered a fearsome scenario – Sindelar was lying naked and dead with his unconscious girlfriend of 10 days Camila Castognila. She died later in the hospital.

It was thought that both Sindelar and Camilla were asphyxiated by the fumes of Carbon Monoxide from a faulty heater. The Police ended their investigations after two days, while The Public Prosecutor, though, had still not reached a conclusion six months later when the Nazi authorities ordered the case be closed.

On January 25, a piece in the Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung claimed, “everything points towards this great man having become the victim of murder through poisoning”. In the 2003 BBC documentary, Egon Ulbrich, a friend of Sindelar, claimed a local official was bribed to record his death as an accident, which ensured that he would receive a state funeral.

The tomb of Matthias Sindelar. Image Courtesy: Wikiwand
The tomb of Matthias Sindelar. Image Courtesy: Wikiwand

“According to the Nazi rules, a person who had been murdered or who has committed suicide cannot be given a grave of honour. So we had to do something to ensure that the criminal element involved in his death was removed”, he stated.

Several theories still circulate about his death, but in the end, various pieces of evidence strongly claim that it was an accident and nothing else.

As Jonathan Wilson wrote, “Despite various claims, the police records have neither been destroyed nor gone missing. They are still there in Vienna, and accessible. There have been suggestions that Sindelar and/or Castignola were Jewish. It is true that Sindelar played for Austria Vienna, the club of the Jewish bourgeoisie, and came from Moravia, from where several Jews had migrated to Vienna, but his family was Catholic. It is just about conceivable that Castignola, an Italian, may have had Jewish origins, but they were well enough hidden that she had been allowed to become co-owner of a bar in the week before her death.

But the most telling piece of evidence is that the upstairs neighbours had complained a few days earlier that one of the chimneys in the block was defective. Some have pointed out that there was no smell of gas in the flat, but then there wouldn’t have been; carbon monoxide is odourless”.

Conclusion

Football is blessed with a Mezza, Puskas, Pele, Diego Maradona, Garrincha, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo O Fenomeno, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, Cristiano Ronaldo and many more. These names are just stuck in the minds of every football fan. But football had a Papery Man named Matthias Sindelar, who is forgotten in the course of time by many. His style and skill are legendary and should always inspire each and every generation.

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